"Justified: Baptism" (Service 2)
October 15, 2017
Pastor Frederick Casmer
"GOD'S GIFTS IN BAPTISM KEEP ON GIVING"
Put yourself in Naaman’s boots. The general was a highly respected military leader and valued by the king of Syria. But he had the dreaded and incurable skin disease of leprosy. He would be quarantined and isolated to protect others from this contagious disease. Those were his prospects, except for an Israelite slave girl who told his wife about a prophet of God in her homeland, Samaria, who could cure her husband. Naaman probably felt ashamed to ask a favor of a foreign prophet who was an enemy of Syria. But the situation only went downhill from there. When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s door, the prophet refused to even meet with him. Instead he sent a servant with this message: wash seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman was not impressed. He had expected some flash and dazzle, some arm-waving and calling on the name of Israel’s God. Instead he was told to wash in some filthy river in an enemy country! What an outrage! But the general’s faithful servants managed to convince their master to at least give it a try. So Naaman washed himself seven times in the Jordan River and he rose up from the water cleansed and healed, his skin like a little child’s.
Each newly baptized son of daughter of God is washed clean, not of leprosy, but of the stain of sin. In the quiet miracle of baptism, you are born again into a right relationship with God and made an heir of His heaven. No razzle dazzle, flashy, spectacular obvious miracle but a miracle nonetheless. In today’s Second Lesson St. Paul says, “GOD’S GIFTS IN BAPTISM KEEP ON GIVING.” 1. Saved by the love of our Savior. 2. Reborn and renewed by the Spirit. 3. Made heirs of the hope of eternal life.
This section of Paul’s letter to Titus conveys the wonderful message that God loves us: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us” (vv 4-5a). The word Paul uses for “love” shows that God loves sinners as a friend (Greek: philanthropy). The proof of His love He demonstrated when our Savior “appeared” visibly on earth (Greek: epiphany). How different from our love which we give to those who are most attractive or who can give us the most or who accomplish the most.
I read that Facebook is causing depression in many young people. Why? Because they see what they think is going on in other people’s lives. They compare that to the reality of their own lives, and find themselves wanting and pining for things they don’t think they can ever have. The problem: most of those people’s posts share only the good things but none of the bad.
Paul doesn’t have that problem: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (v3). People boast of their freedom to say what they want and do what they want to whomever they want whenever they want. God forgives sinners who deserve only His wrath and punishment. Why?
“He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (v5a), a term denoting God’s pity and compassion.
God saves us because He took pity on us sinners, not because of good works we had done. The best “righteous things” we can offer Him only amount to filthy rags (Isa 64:6). No amount of pious words or devout deeds can begin to pay off the debt of sin we owe God. No amount of money can buy God’s favor or salve our guilty consciences.
We are saved by the love of our Savior. Paul then states how the Father gave us individually the salvation which He prepared for all sinners universally through Christ. The second of “GOD’S GIFTS IN BAPTISM THAT KEEP ON GIVING”: 2. Reborn and renewed by the Spirit.
“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (v5b). Baptism is a “washing” away of sins. Paul uses the same word in Ephesians where he states that Christ cleansed the church “by the washing with water through the word” (5:26). Baptism also gives “rebirth.” Just as we could not bring about our first birth from our mother’s womb, so we also can’t bring about our second birth through baptism. Baptism also gives “renewal,” a word meaning renovation, a complete change for the better, not new in the sense of time but in the sense of quality.
The person responsible for this spiritual transformation is the Holy Spirit “whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (v6). Notice the Triune God does everything in baptism, not man. The Father pours out the Spirit through His Son. He washes away sins. He gives rebirth and renewal. He creates saving faith. Do we value our baptism as a washing of rebirth and renewal, a means of grace by which God saves through the powerful, personal presence of the Spirit? Luther certainly did:
Thus we see what a great and excellent thing baptism is, which snatches us from the jaws
of the devil and makes us God’s own, overcomes and takes away sin and daily strengthens
the new person, and always endures and remains until we pass out of this misery into
eternal glory. Therefore let all Christians regard their baptism as the daily garment they
are to wear all the time. (Large Catechism, Baptism 44)
This cascade of “GOD’S GIFTS IN BAPTISM THAT KEEP ON GIVING”
culminates in heaven. We are 3. Made heirs of the hope of eternal life.
This hope for the future is based on God’s action in the past. “…so that, having been justified by his grace” (v7a). Justification is God’s act as our Judge who counted our sins to be Christ’s and His righteousness to be ours. Justification is the exact opposite of condemnation, because Jesus bore the curse of our sin. How can we be sure? Because God says so -- in baptism, in the absolution, in Scripture, in Holy Communion. How did He justify us? “by his grace.” Not because we are good and loving, but because He is.
This hope for the future is based on God’s certain promises. “so that… we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (v7b). An heir is legally entitled to certain property promised him in a last will and testament. By the last will and testament of His suffering and death, our Savior has made us legal heirs of heaven. Scripture repeatedly states “the hope of eternal life” is certain; not something we wish will happen but can’t be sure of. God’s promise of future glory assures us that what we now enjoy in principle by faith we will one day actually possess by sight, sound and touch.
Lists of the richest people in the United States are often published. Studies of these lists reveal that by far the largest number of these people inherited their riches. They didn’t earn them. They were given them by a legal document, a will. You and I also have inherited riches we have received by God’s grace, a bona fide claim to life everlasting. You even have the legal document somewhere that proves it: your baptismal certificate. Luther said:
Suppose there were a physician who had so much skill that people would not die, or even
though they died would afterward live eternally. Just think how the world would snow and
rain money down on such a person! ...Now, here in baptism there is brought, free of charge,
to every person’s door just such a treasure and medicine that swallows up death and keeps
all people alive. (Large Catechism, Baptism, 42,43).
There are no more valuable gifts than “GOD’S GIFTS IN BAPTISM THAT KEEP ON GIVING” – saved by the love of our Savior; reborn and renewed by the Spirit; made heirs of the hope of eternal life. Once we receive and treasure these gifts by faith, we won’t ever be disappointed or reject them in unbelief. Instead, when the Tempter makes you think that your sins are too great to be forgiven or when the fears and trials of life make you wonder if God really does love you, you can say with Luther: “I am baptized! And if I have been baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body” (Large Catechism, Baptism 44). AMEN.